Engraving is born from a technique, one of the most beautiful techniques in the visual arts, and one of the most ethical ones. Its ethics is based on two fundamental factors.
The first is that of the exigency demanded by the material, the instruments, the precision of the gesture that involves manual force. On various occasions Maria Bonomi has told about the imperatives that Lívio Abramo, one of her teachers, imposed on her training: familiarity with the gouges, chisels and burins; with the brayers; with the resistance and the seductions of the printing blocks. The hand should learn.
But the brain, for its turn, had to anticipate the result. Once the printing block is ready, what the paper receives from it, and later reveals, always holds a surprise. At this moment, the progression of the artistic process is interrupted. A decisive rupture takes place. And it is only at the end of this ephemeral and amorous meeting between print block and paper that the latter receives the marks of the ink, and a final, definitive work emerges.
Creation and execution, cleverness and skill therefore go hand-in-hand in an inseparable dialectic, blended within a single flow. Without one of these terms, engraving would not exist. Thus, due to these intrinsic, rigorous characteristics, the engraver’s practice prevents any easiness in the artistic process, hindering it.
The second fundamental aspect involves engraving’s social nature. As a multiple, it questions the precious and irreplaceable original. It is at the same time unique and numerous. Ubiquitous, it spreads to various places, without losing its identity. It yields itself at the same time to many gazes, in many places.
There are therefore two ethics: one artisanal, the other social. Maria Bonomi’s trajectory has relied on an unwavering fidelity to both. The artist is not content to work on the print blocks with precision and rigor, but follows all of the processes, until the final printing, in a meticulous control. Nor is she content to sit back and tranquilly watch the world’s problems: she has denounced, and continues to denounce, the social injustices, the political abuses. This power of conviction spreads to her art and is always present in it, sometimes evident, sometimes infiltrated in the pure creative gesture.
Intensity is one of her work’s most characteristic features. It stems from conflicts that are resolved in tension.
In a recent interview the artist stated: “It is the conflict of the material with the idea. You know that an unforeseen factor can be introduced in the work, insofar as you already have something in mind. And this could take place or not. The engraving, as a result, refers to the visible world, perceptible by the retina – and also by touch. But as a concept, as an idea, it is concluded entirely within our mind. With this, I am almost arriving at the point of saying that there is a mental printing block and there is a realized one. By way of technique, we transpose to a third support a materiality which was mental, which was a truth of ours, which was an image prior to the one that was made. Therefore, making an engraving is, before all else, to have a graphic idea. And to possess graphic values, prior to their materiality. That is, engraving can even be considered immaterial, and not necessarily engraving.”
This immateriality, however, lies as much in the idea as in the gesture. From thence comes the seriousness, the manual and mental rigor of engraving. However, from thence also comes the principal that the engraving is situated far beyond the technique. “Engraving is a universe,” Maria Bonomi has said.
In Maria Bonomi’s art the social vocation is expanded, just as the artisanal principles are also expanded. Nothing there is small. The engraver’s incisive gesture, the groove she traces, the void that is imposed to the wood, the shapes she cuts, are always monumental and tend toward the unlimited. The formidable formal structures that Maria Bonomi conceives are in the small image (which can be enlarged many times if wished, since it always sustains and holds the same power), as well as in the huge panels she has created for public places. What is in the smaller work is also in the larger one, and to consider her works in scale is to understand this epic art superficially.
Maria Bonomi aptly formulated that the engraving artist falls into an exercise of limitation “if he/she does not take hold of the exercise of the idea system and attitude intrinsic to engraving: the bold investigative possibility it holds, which can be mined infinitely. Everything else is agonizing.”
There is the implicit idea here that engraving is a universe. Cutting, carving, extracting, marking and grooving – this is the core of this practice. From this, the great engraver advances: the print on the paper is enlarged, it becomes giant: the paper can be substituted by the cement that becomes the receptor of these impressions. The metal is cut, remodeled, transforming into a kind of engraving-sculpture. Polyester, glass, mirrors, ceramic tiles, soft-drink cans, bottles, a meaningful photograph – everything fuels her inventions.
The idea of public art, which is so dear to Maria Bonomi, presupposes a public investment, a public space, a collective energy. This energy is furnished by architects, landscapers, urbanists, engineers, workers, and unexpected collaborators who are all crucial for the elaboration of the work.
In the large panel created for the Luz Subway and CPTM Station (São Paulo), Maria Bonomi incorporated marks of things that had been lost for years and found (precisely as at an archaeological site) while the transformation of the place was underway: memories of old neglected ghosts. But many other objects brought by a wide range of people were also added. The cement preserved marks and forms: in the concave void, the nest of collaboration and memory.
Maria Bonomi’s act of engraving is made of ties, links, and passages, which do not respect and cannot be pigeonholed in definitions of artistic genre. The word ponte [bridge] (the title of one of her recent works) aptly expresses the idea of a crossing-over between borders that would otherwise be inaccessible. We find the primordial character of this art between the forms printed on paper and those on the huge wall, between the carvings in wood and those in cement, between the surface and the relief, between engraving and public art.
Thus, in Maria Bonomi’s work, engraving never signifies only a technique. The artist actually creates a continuously expanding universe. In it, everything is interconnected, everything responds and is supported. It exists thanks to the artist’s formidable inventive power.
Everything arises from an ample feeling. It has always been that way. It’s not just the difference in size among the works that is largely insignificant. Their positions on the timeline are also insignificant, compared to the powerful creative unity they arise from and to which they pertain. It is enough to look at the impressive illustrations for Raul Bopp’s Cobra Norato, with its clear domains for the ink, for the void, for the structure: who would ever imagine that these powerful, mature works were made by Maria Bonomi when she was 11 years old? And her work Paisagem urbana de São Paulo [Urban Landscape of São Paulo], made when she was 17 (at which time a critic wrote “a lovely view of São Paulo, by the gentle young lady Maria Bonomi”), reveals in impressive sense of solid and lively construction.
The essence was already there, in those first works. Lina Bo Bardi used the expression metagenesis, referring to the creative power arising from transformations, which characterizes Maria Bonomi. The engraver herself has stated that she always does the same thing, and that when she does the same thing, something new always emerges. Just as the small is in the large, and yesterday is in today.
In the dazzling fertility of her creation, one work often gives rise to others. This uninterrupted and fecund process has a very current example: it is present in Ponte [Bridge]. This large woodcut is inspiring the Águas sólidas [Solid Waters], light metallic and transparent metallic units, still incomplete in the full sense, but fully under development. Another beautiful phrase by Maria Bonomi, that seems to describe her work so well: “I do not believe that reality has a beginning and end…”
There is an evident feeling of amplitude, both in Maria Bonomi’s manner of being as well as in her works. She works in a very careful way, but the result transcends the details. There are great artists who work on small surfaces, creating worlds that are simultaneously reduced and infinite: Klee was like that, to cite a name that Maria Bonomi has mentioned among those she admires. Others, on the other hand, need to expand in the vastness of the epopee.
The energy that animates Maria Bonomi does not drive her toward gestuality, toward vehement splotches, toward tracks of ink on paper. In woodcut she has her chosen medium (she has stated that engraving “is born ‘within’ the wood; not ‘on’ the paper. Wood is receptive, it contains the energy.”). Woodcut imposes discipline. Her practice channels the gesture toward the structure.
This combines with the prevailing spirit in Maria Bonomi’s works – a spirit distrustful of the random and the disordered. The powerful energy is directed toward the search for a personal and throbbing geometry. Vibrating thanks to the impulses and effervescences of creation, the visual rigor leads to a result that always contains something of the heroic.
A powerful aesthetic sense delves to the essence of the forms, and organizes them with intense clarity, conferring them an undeniable authority. Such an art could never remain confined to the paper, which can expand to a certain size, but never to a huge panel.
The long shafts that incline, cross and rest on one
another, which she created in 1976 for the Mãe do Salvador (Cruz Torta) Church in São Paulo, her first public work, fall within the universe of engraving. The parallel grooves that seek a tense and geometric dynamics, in the panel for the Esporte Clube Sírio; or the magnificent undulating path in the lobby of the Hotel Maksud Plaza, in São Paulo; or the surfaces she created for the subway and for Luz Station; all of her monumental works pertain to the galaxy of engraving. This universe also contains her installations: the symbolic poetry of Sobre a essência: 7 horizontes do Homem [Concerning the Essence: 7 Horizons of Man]; the moving rivulet of reflections, made of fragmented mirrors, which composes the path of the marvelous Passagem pela imagem [Passage through the Image].
In every way, the public destiny of Maria Bonomi’s works is marked. For a simple reason: her works instate the space that surrounds them, they define the place where they are installed. They impose their environment. They metamorphose the space where they are located. They create the very atmosphere that involves them. They expand in an aura. This is due to the fact that in them, everything is essential. All pleasant or ornamental details were banned, to reach the austere fullness of a powerful and decisive form.
The present show is the most complete exhibition ever held concerning Maria Bonomi’s art. It features a large number of works, not so much to trace a chronological path (even though much of her early production is present, including various works being shown for the first time), but rather to reveal the permanence of her concerns and the links that connect them.
It should be pointed out, however, that her important creations in the scenography field have not been included, for lack of space. This is certainly the largest gap. It is also true that, because of their specific character, and due to the rarity of the known documents, they require detailed researches and studies, yet to be carried out. We hope that, in the future, a careful exhibition on this theme – Maria Bonomi and the theater – will be held.
In our conception (I say the plural “our” not out of authorial modesty, but with the feeling that it stems from a team effort), the exhibition is divided in the following way.
One room is devoted to monumental art. In it, there are video monitors showing photos of works which, for obvious reasons, could not be moved. In this same room there are some admirable printing blocks, true works of art in their own right.
The upper circular room (that we have christened the “uterus”), features creations which, in some way, possess a “feminine” character.
The lower circular room (the “dungeon”) contains the production related to the artist’s political convictions.
The large room (the “panorama”) reveals the artist’s essential love for woodcut, the central technique in her artistic path, along with her incursions into drawing, lithograph and oil painting.
Maria Bonomi has made some engravings in various versions, with variations above all in the coloring. I insisted on showing all of these versions, since the chromatic variants are the incarnations of one and the same work. The set of these metempsychoses forms an urban-work, which is beyond the tangible realm, and in which all its manifestations participate. They are fragmented effects of a transcendent whole that they form in conjunction, and which surpasses them.
The impact of a series exhibited in sequence is enormous, even more so when accompanied by the printing block (which participates in this original transcendence, as a generator, but also as a mode in sculptural relief, of the form that was printed). In this light, if we were to present only one engraving extracted from the series, we would be providing a sampling, not the complete work.
Finally, in the outdoor spaces, there are some installations and sculptures.
Here I wish to acknowledge the staff of Nu Design (especially Julio Mariutti, Daniel Sene and Rodrigo Brancher) who took the guiding conceptions for this show and transformed them into solutions for the exhibition: with this show, the young team had an excellent occasion for acquiring experience and exercising their inventiveness. I would also like to underscore the coordination and production of Lena Peres Oliveira, the true locomotive of the project, without whom it would never have achieved success. Above all, and finally, I would like to acknowledge the constant and illuminating presence of Maria Bonomi.
Jorge Coli, 2011
Bonomi: Amongst the Engraving and the Public Art